When it comes to bang for the performance buck, it’s hard to beat Subaru’s Impreza WRX and STI models
. Both come with turbocharged engines, performance-tuned suspensions and are available in either hatchback or sedan body styles, so it really comes down to two questions: how much do you have to spend, and how fast do you want to go?
Neither the WRX nor the STI could be called sedate in their styling. Of the two, the WRX plays its boy-racer role a bit more subtly, but there’s no mistaking the car’s aggressive looks and wide stance for an ordinary econobox. If you happen to miss the giant intercooler intake on the hood, or its muscular flared fenders, chances are you’ll still notice the four exhaust tips piped out the rear.
is the lower-performance (and hence, lower cost) model, but it still comes packing a 265-horsepower, turbocharged 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine, mated to a five-speed manual transmission (no automatic is offered). In Subaru’s long-standing tradition, power is sent to all four wheels, ensuring maximum acceleration regardless of road or weather conditions.
The STI brings a 305-horsepower version of the turbocharged, 2.5-liter four-cylinder to the party, but this time it’s mated to a close-ratio six speed manual gearbox. As with the WRX, no automatic or automated manual transmission is available, and the power is also sent to all four wheels.
If the performance of the lower-tune WRX models is impressive, the performance of STI models is astonishing
. Equipped with a center differential that can be optimized for traction across a wide variety of surfaces, as well as an ECU that can set performance to one of three pre-set programs, the STI’s sole focus is getting around a track, paved or otherwise, in the least amount of time.
As you’d expect, what makes the car shine on a racetrack can make it hard to live with as a daily driver. If we had to commute in the car, we’d probably give the nod to the more civilized WRX, even if it gives up performance to its wilder brother. On the other hand, if we were looking for a weekend-only car to build our collection of autocross and time attack trophies with (and we had the extra cost of admission), we’d opt for the STI. Buy them for the right reasons, and neither will disappoint.
Inside, both models have gone a bit upscale in recent years, broadening their appeal to a wider range of buyers. While early WRX and STI models were essentially economy cars with a big engine and a stiff suspension, newer models can be appointed surprisingly well. Given the somewhat harsh ride quality of WRX and STI models, no one will mistake them for luxury cars, but the WRX can serve as a comfortable daily driver for the automotive enthusiast.
For a detailed look at the WRX and STI models, see our comprehensive review on The Car Connection